In truth, there are probably as many plotting methods as there are writers on the planet. Still, I believe there are five major boxes within which most writers fit. I’ve talked about some of them here on the blog before.
Many writers prefer to think through the entire story before they start writing. They may write character bios, do a lot of research, create extensive worldbuilding, and lay out the plot from start to finish in some sort of outline. Here’s how one writer plots.
Seat-of-the-pants writers prefer to be surprised as they write. They figure if they know the whole story in advance, there’s little appeal to writing it all down. They write to discover what happens.
Others say that pantsing is an elaborate form of plotting. Instead of piecing together small bits of information to create a whole, pantsers write out everything they know. Their first draft acts as a very detailed outline from which they can write the next draft, adding, subtracting, and tweaking scenes as required.
Some writers fall in between plotting and pantsing, and do a simplified amount of plotting before turning their muse loose to fill in the blanks during first draft. Different writers will find differing amounts of plotting useful, depending on where they are in the plotting-to-pantsing spectrum.
Tweening (tweenering?) is my method as described here. Note that I didn’t choose this method—it chose me.
Writing by your headlights simply means that you plan the first part of your story then write it. When you get that section written, you’ll be able to see what happens next and can plot out the next few scenes or chapters. Once you’ve written those, you’ll be able to determine what comes next, section by section, all the way to the end.
Looking back, I wrote my first novel this way. I’d done some planning, but quickly realized I didn’t have enough plot to run for 80-100K (the length of an average novel). Once I ran out of plot, I thought up some more stuff to happen then wrote it. Rinse and repeat.
Because I never had a good grip on the end result, I felt as though the whole story was a failure (other than achieving my word count goal, no mean feat in itself). And therefore the method was a failure for me. Since then I’ve discovered that with a few minor (tweener) modifications, this is exactly my best process. It took me ten more novels to figure that out, much longer than it needed to.
E. L. Doctorow summarized the headlighting method this way: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
- FIVE plotting methods for fiction? And you thought if you weren’t a plotter, you were a pantser. click to tweet
- What do these have in common? Plotter, pantser, tweener, headlighter, polisher? click to tweet
Although I believe few writers land in this camp, it’s a valid method for those who need it. It’s doubtless the slowest method of getting to the end of a first draft but, in theory, subsequent drafts are quick and relatively painfree.
A polisher tests the story with every step. Unlike a pantser who gives over to the freedom to write whatever comes to mind or a plotter who decides it all ahead of time, a polisher will write a scene then analyze it. Is it good enough? Does it work with the previous scene(s)? How can it be made better? What needs adding or changing in previous chapters to facilitate this new revelation? Only when everything previously written is polished and perfect is this writer ready to move to the next scene.
At a glance, it seems this type of writer is a perfectionist and may be keeping their intuitive right brain on a short leash. However, all directions remain viable at any given time, so the polisher can move the story wherever feels right on the solid foundation she’s already built. It’s a more methodical way of pantsing, with fewer big issues to deal with at the other end. An editing pass, and it’s probably good to go.
Embrace the way that seems to work for you and tweak it rather than throwing out the entire plotting method and experimenting with its opposite. You can learn to write effectively with fewer wasted novels than I did.
What is your plotting method? Does this list open your eyes to new possibilities?